With Passover swiftly approaching and visions of macaroons and escaping slaves dancing in my head, I had an unusual spate of freedom last weekend. My partner and I do all of our toddler T’s childcare (with ample assistance from angelic grandparents!) and we share equally, but with my partner and T out of town for a conference, I went several days without the demands of childcare.
I didn’t change any diapers, clean any food off the floor or wash several loads of clothes (just one or two!). And I got to do things I have rarely done since T was born: I slept past eight AM a few days in a row, I went to the campus where I work early on Friday and stayed late (to hear Winona LaDuke talk—awesome!); I rode my bike to our synagogue and attended the whole Shabbat morning service, then lounged for awhile exploring some feminist theology I’d been wanting to read. Afterwards I joined a group of friends for a long, leisurely Shabbat lunch. Then I biked home, took a nap, and started to study Torah (which I interpret liberally—both the words of the sacred text and which texts are sacred—my recent Torah study has included Thoreau’s Walden).
I started with reading the text from Exodus that we’ll read in synagogue on the first day of Passover and I was struck again by the commentary on the verse, “and he [Pharoah] said, ‘Get out from among my people … and go and serve God!’” (12:31)
The Talmud explains this means the Israelites went from being servants of Pharaoh to servants of God. Surprisingly, this means that there is actually no complete freedom in the Exodus, just a transition from one form of servitude to another. One seder tradition I appreciate is each year choosing important questions upon which to focus. My question for this year is now clear: Who or what will I serve?
Since Shabbat still wasn’t over (I’m so glad the days are getting longer!), I had time to start finding an answer, and it came from an unexpected place. I started reading Shir ha-Shirim, the Song of Songs, another text we will read on the first day of Passover. The first time I read it I was amazed by Shir ha-Shirim’s eroticism, and was disappointed to learn that rabbis had reinterpreted it to be an allegory of the love between God and the Jewish people. I never got around to asking what it has to do with Passover. Reading commentary on it this past Shabbat, I found the great Medieval commentator Rashi explaining that the verse, “Rise up, my love, my beautiful one, and come away,” (2:10) corresponds to the comparatively prosaic verse in Exodus, “I will lift you up out of the misery of Egypt.” (3:17) Love is what drew the Israelites out of slavery. The service we enter after we escape Egyptian bondage is the service of love.
When I first heard the Indigo Girls sing, “The closer I’m bound in love to you, the closer I am to free,” (“Power of Two”), I was a tired teenager. I brooded in the no man’s land between jock-dom and nerd-dom, yearning to define my own identity, and resented my feminist older sister who drove me to school and made me listen to her music. But now I realize that freedom in the bonds of love is the only freedom I want.
My partner and daughter came home Sunday and I am free not just to hug and kiss them but to once again wait on my daughter while she sits interminably on her little potty producing nothing, or stands in her crib after waking up and refuses to have her diaper changed but sweetly demands I bring her milk and read her books. On Sunday night I even drew unusual satisfaction from discussing our family finances with my partner! Who would have thought freedom would look like this?
Image by Daniel Lobo via Flickr
Rabbi Michael Ramberg graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College this June. Much to his surprise, as the son of intermarried (but mainly secular) parents active in the Civil Rights movement, Michael has found in the rabbinate his own way to carry on his parents’ important legacy. For him the most compelling venue in which to pursue this work of repairing the world is through interfaith coalitions, not only because Jews need partners in order to bring about real changes, but also because interfaith relationships are so nourishing for him. Michael’s focus is standing up for the rights of immigrants, which he does primarily as a volunteer with the New Sanctuary Movement and with his synagogue, Mishkan Shalom, in Philadelphia, PA. In addition to his rabbinic role as community organizer and activist, Michael relishes his responsibilities working with people to sanctify life transitions. In his Jewish practice Michael is invigorated both by reconstructing the Jewish tradition to fit the evolving needs of people today and by immersing himself in prayer and the study of sacred texts. Michael’s partner just completed her PhD in Education and they have committed to equally sharing the care of their two year old daughter. Michael sometimes thinks that the profound love his daughter has inspired in him gives him at least a glimmer of understanding of the love the divine has for humanity.